The Dentist’s Diary – 687th

A week like never before??

It didn’t last long did it? One game played and we are struck down with the most dreaded of scenario’s and one thateveryone in the game feared, but I guess believed was likely to happen sometime, somewhere and hopefully to someone else. As I said to a mate this week, it was pretty obvious that if disaster is to strike anywhere, it would probably be at Hull FC, for over the years we haven’t had much luck in that direction have we? 

The situation at the Club is a real worry and my thoughts and prayers and I know those of all of you reading this, go-out to all the staff who have contracted the virus, to their families and to all the other guys,  Adam and Clarky in particular, who are trying to manage the situation. 

After that awful display in Leeds last weekend, which now pales into insignificance, my pal Mike over in Cheshire commented last Monday, “I’d start serialising the final book now Wilf if I where you” for we were all so disappointed and disenchanted. However, unbeknown to him and all the rest of us, things were soon to take a dramatic turn and be about a lot more than losing a game of rugby. 

This is not a time for throwing stones, pointing fingers or chucking accusations about, (although plenty are engaged in doing just that), but more a period when we all have to get behind the club, the players and their families and close ranks to try to get us all through this unscathed.

It would have been easier, this time, not to have written a Diary and I did consider it, but after this weekly rubbish got back on track last week, I got so much correspondence in support of its return, that I have tried in a shorter than usual journal to at least have my say on things both on and off the field. Its just my thoughts and musings in a period that few clubs and their fans have ever seen the like of before.  

You see, over the last 70 odd years I thought I’d seen it all. Indeed, in the last 17 season I have written in here about some quite unbelievable things happening ‘off the pitch’ at Hull FC.But this week’s revelations on Tuesday night did, I think, topthe lot. We had been thrashed by Salford and had hardly got over that public humiliation before all that was forgotten, as the Club were informed of the positive results by Public Health England, when a routine phased testing session,became national news and a real concern for all of us. Those results were also a major worry for last Sunday’s opponents Salford, who one minute were celebrating a great win and the next were plunged into worry and concern, although thankfully, their players results continue to come back negative.

Initially back then, a total of five Hull players who’d featured at Headingley tested positive, plus one other squad member and two staff, and so immediately all our scheduled training sessions for Wednesday and beyond were cancelled. Whilst everyone connected with the club were in shock, the whole training centre was locked down and sanitised and all the players and staff told to isolate, many for 14 days. Those infected are mostly young and fit guys, and you have to just pray they are all OK, but they all have mums and Dads and grannies and grandads that are much more at risk and that’s the real devastating bit about this whole virus business. Everyone has to be extra careful. Then on Saturday the results of the second testing session came in with another 4 staff proving positive. So, there’s little doubt that there are a lot of anxious folks out there. 

Can I say at this point in the proceedings that my heartfelt good wishes go out to all those affected and to all their families, I’m sure the thoughts of all the true Hull FC fans (I‘ll come to the true bit in a minute) are with you and all ourgood wishes go out to you. I just want to extend my best wishes for a speedy recovery to everyone who was infectedand to give hope and support to their loved ones and friends who are now in isolation. I don’t care how much of a ‘tough guy’ you are, this is a scary situation and when you’re in the middle of it,  it’s all pretty mentally debilitating too.

All the players that tested positive are in quarantine for ten days which takes us to 21st August at the earliest, whilst somewho have been in contact are already isolated until almost the end of the month. All of which is of course strictly in line with National Guidance. However, some people are finding itdifficult to understand why there have been no strict bubbles enforced by the RFL for Super League clubs, akin to what is happening in other sports like Premiership football and international Cricket. Of course, in our game that’s justimpossible, because as Tony Smith said last week, the finances within our sport are so different, our players are not paid like those in other sports. Many have wives who go out to work, go shopping or go to hospitals etc. In such situations it’s impossible for players to be totally isolated from any possible incoming infection. 

As a sport we simply can’t keep our players shacked up in hotels all the time, because financially it’s just not viable. What’s more and I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt before the season is out, that this will be the last such outbreak in our game. I hope I’m wrong there, but as Adam Pearson said last week, although the clubs can enforce the strictest rules on site,once the players and staff go home they just have to follow national government guidelines for households and we all know how difficult to interpret and enforce they can be. 

Of course, the minute this broke, the idiots in their bedrooms on their keyboards with the curtains drawn were all at it. We soon all knew that three players had a few beers in their back garden afterwards and some other ‘well-wishers’ saw a player in a Leeds pub and widely reported the incident as if to implicate that player as well. In minutes it all just caught fire, with the players even having to defend their actions and those of their families on social media. I know that from the off some of the idiots across the game were pointing the finger (and all I’d say to them is ‘there but for fortune’ guys), but some of our own fans were letting rip too and doing it without having any sort of evidence to go on. Some of the stuff I read was totally unacceptable and that made me feel pretty ashamed. This is a time as a sport, a City and a Club, for closing ranks and supporting those who are affected. 

The vast majority of us tried to keep an open mind and were more concerned for the players and their family’s health, but   although most of us reserved our judgement as to how this had happened. I’m only human and have to admit to thinking, “what have they been up to now” when I first heard about it. I guess many of us thought the same as well, but for all of us it must have been just a fleeting thought before, because of our ongoing concerns about this virus and the severity of this current outbreak, we were all just worried for everyone concerned. 

I’m certainly not holier than anyone, but I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of going onto social media to spread rumours, mostly unfounded and blatantly make stuff up about the players and their families. I just felt so concerned for those who had contracted it and for their nearest and dearest, as they had this abused piled on top of the obvious worry they already had to deal with. But, like everyone else, all I could do was to trust Adam and Clarky to sort it; as I awaited developments.    

Adam Pearson soon addressed those actions of the few on social media, as he appeared on national radio on the Adrian Durham’s Drivetime show on Talk Sport on Wednesday evening, when the whole players baby story came to light. As a diabetic Adam then told of his own personal fears concerning his contact within the players and that struck home to me too. He’s just like the rest of us, but, he certainly sounded down and despondent and at the time, I just thought how we’d be sunk as a Club without Adam Pearson and that isa fact!  

He then went on to point out again that there are currently no biosecurity rules laid out from the governing body on what players can and can’t do outside club commitments, so, he said, the players in question sitting apart in a back garden etc. or out having a beer weren’t breaking any rules at all. They were only doing what everyone else was doing, he said. When they go home they have to just abide by the social distancing measures all the rest of us are following; simple as! 

However, whatever the arguments about bubbles etc. I do think that the RFL have been lax in their rules on the frequency of testing, because this scenario might well indicate that once a week is not enough. But, perhaps what has happened has highlighted this point and its always easy to be wise after the event isn’t it? At £3000 a go per club, testing is not a cheap exercise at all and so the national issue (with which the current government is wrestling), of risk, balanced against economic survival, is reflected at our sports level as well.  

Some folks have said that perhaps the RFL could have looked more closely at what the NRL do about restricting their players movements, as over there going to the barbers, attending small gatherings or going to the pub on their days off, sees an immediate fine and can bring a ban. But it doesn’t stop someone catching it from a working wife, a child at school or on a visit to the hospital does it? 

So, the whole situation regarding weekly testing etc. is still a concern, but it was interesting to see Hull FC having all players tested at Hessle on Wednesday and conducting their own tests at the training ground on Friday. It’s a worry in general for the game and as far as the Hull Club’s fixtures are concerned, but that’s all secondary for me when it comes to making sure everyone who has been touched by the outbreak, is safe and looked after. 

That’s all I’m worried about for sure and most importantly we all, both in the club and outside it,  have to learn from it and double our guard and the precautions we take. I think that in general the older age group that is most at risk gets that stuff and is still abiding by the rules and doing its best to avoid infection and by the figures for hospital admissions, that’s working. However, the predominance of younger cases (15 to 40 years old ) in the increase of infections of late, does show that more vigilance is needed by these age groups. Just my opinion of course and no doubt a lot won’t agree with me, however, as opinions go, everyone’s allowed one, but make no mistake about it, Covid 19 is a nasty, pernicious disease that has proved to be a real killer. Let’s hope everyone getsthrough this unscathed and as so often has happened in the past in times of crisis at our club, we come out of it all a lot stronger!!

As for the general Rugby League wide situation well perhaps in an ideal world we would have been better following the example of the Division One and Two football clubs in mothballing the rest of this season, before looking to start up again in 2021. That would I think for many have been the best option. But, with rugby league as a game, that’s not a situation that would work at all.

The problem is Sky TV. We have scrambled around this week to re-gig the fixtures. Why? Well, I’d say that it is predominantly to satisfy the contractual needs of the broadcaster, because as I see it we are solely dependent on their money to survive as a sport. We have other income streams but to meet the economic requirements of the game we rely almost completely on Sky.

Look, it’s always easy to be wise after the event isn’t it. However, you have to look back to 1996 to see where all this situation started and perhaps went wrong. Back then Rupert Murdoch came riding over the horizon waiving millions of pounds in the direction of rugby league as his organisationwas desperately short a sport to fill the gap between the end of one football season and the start of the next one. Immediately we changed from our traditional winter fixture list, played a truncated season and started Summer Rugby with loads of money being thrown at the clubs. 

Instead of staying as we were with teams having some semi pro and some full-time professional players Wigan and Co. went out and used their share of the dosh to put everyone on contracts and the rest of the then premier division followed suit. The jam tomorrow bit was the fact that we were promised that gates would shoot up and the game would flourish but neither happened and instead teams really struggled for gates across the summer period and when they were relegated, Oldham went bankrupt and Workington (who only averaged just over 3000 in super league anyway) went into administration.   

The whole template of where we are now was set back then and as we role forward 25 years, we find that Clubs are now getting around £1.9m from the broadcaster each, which roughly equates to the salary cap allowance they currently have. So, we are still now almost totally dependent on that money and without it the game, as we know it would collapse. But, to get it we have to honour our contractual obligations with Sky TV.  Add to that the fact that the contract is up for renewal at the end of next season and it’s easy to see why the game is desparate to meet Sky’s demands for the rest of the 2020 campaign. I hope and pray that the game gets through this campaign without any more outbreaks within its clubs, but I can’t see any sort of indication at all as to when Hull FC will be back in business on the field, can you?   

At a time like this it’s hard to talk about anything else, but in an effort to get to grips with things on the field I’ll have a stab at turning to rugby things and man, I was despondent last week after what was it was generally agreed a very poor showing.

You see, all I had wanted over the last few months in lockdown was to see Hull FC returning with some umph, passion and style! I guess it was all any of us wanted, but we were left deflated and upset once again with a team that simply wasn’t at the races; and how often have we said that of late? I thought the need for the club to survive and the wanting to please all those fans who had been in lock down for so long, was all our players would have needed as motivation, to at least produce something like a display for us all. Instead what they served up in the sun in Leeds was absolutely the same as it was all those weeks ago, before play was curtailed. I know perhaps some could maybe have beensuffering from the early symptoms of the virus, but there appeared to be no lack of energy about the display because in the end it was the general disposition of the players that was of concern.  

The response from readers to my appraisal last week of the state of the club before and after that first game, got you all talking, as around 20 of you took time to discuss the issue in depth and your response after the Salford game, certainlyconsolidated my views as well. Before the news on Tuesday broke Harry O said, “I have waited for weeks through this infernal virus just wanting to watch some rugby and what I get is that rubbish, quite frankly I was disappointed but then in the end when I thought about it, strangely not surprised”. Dave C. Said, “Last Sunday, I had forgotten the feeling of anger and despair that has been a constant for the last two seasons, but boy did it return with a bang. I then at the same time feel guilty and a bit childish as there are far more important things to think about and be grateful for. But I guess the feeling goes that deep that the only solace is knowing that others feel the same”. Fredrick Arthur C. added, “I seriously wondered about a win in the first place, but after all those weeks in isolation, they could have at least given us a performance” 

So, having noted all the comments I received last week and the demeanour of the fans which I have to say ranged from despondent to down-right fuming it was interesting to note that although everyone was disappointed no one, but no one, was surprised!! And there for me is the rub!! Many felt, quite rightly that, last week wasn’t a one off, it was just a continuation of what we have seen for months, if not years at Hull FC. It’s not about form or about skill, but all about demeanour, application and most of all in some games, a visible lack of the right attitude and what’s more all that seems to now be totally embedded in the very DNA of the team. 

So, just what is wrong with Hull FC. We have so much of a start on the average club, the most famous strip in the game, a massive, passionate fan base, a wonderful Stadium to play in, the most famous song in the world game, brilliant membership numbers, a heritage second to none, great training facilities and an owner who has give’s the players everything they need.     

Yet, right back in the days when the players appeared to gang up on Peter Gentle and plotted his downfall at that game at Huddersfield and then had their ‘team-mate’, Lee Radford installed as Coach, I said in here that the tail has wagged the dog at Hull FC. Those of us who knew Peter well, couldn’t believe the stuff we were told about the undermining of hisauthority back then, and although Peter was a genuine honest guy, we didn’t want to believe it either and at the time perhaps we didn’t. But, we all perhaps wonder a bit now!!!  

Indeed, since then, over the years the players looked to at times rule the roost, as they appeared to many on the terraces to just be playing when they wanted to, or when Lee appealed to them to perform and so from time to time we lapsed and sustained too many blow out scores, runs of defeats and totally frustrating performances. Lee wasn’t even allowed in the Changing rooms at Widnes when it was the players who turned that particular season around after that awful defeat and the subsequent lock in, as Pritchard, Manu and Ellis took the reins and laid down the law. I say that because it just illustrates that, whether it was good times or bad, it seemed to be the players that were animating the changes and not the Coaching staff.

Things are great when everything is going well, but when things aren’t, in their lives or in an actual game, the playersshould be biting the bullet and willing each other on. Instead as one fan commented to me this week., “ …..their heads go down as they just ooze a demeanour that smacks of them not being arsed”. One game back after 4 months away (andperhaps now we know of some mitigating circumstances), andthe players were already arguing with each other on the pitch!!!  

How often have we as fans said after Derby defeats the Dobbins wanted it more than we did? For it seems that  struggling teams like Rovers and Salford, who at times only have their ‘wanting’ and pride to get by on, are just so much more dedicated and focussed than we are. On paper, ours is one of the best squads you’ll have seen pull on a black and white shirt ….potentially, but that’s nowhere near the level they are performing at.  It’s not exactly player power but moresomething that is inherent in the culture of the club and if I were to encapsulate it in one sentence, then it would be that they just don’t seem to NEED to want it enough. 

That for me, is the endless enigma of Hull FC. 

Gareth Ellis who I have to say was probably the best on field leader we have had for years, managed to over-ride this demeanour and, with the awe in which he was held, raise the team by example, in both 2016 and 2017. But that leadership is no longer apparent out on the field these days. Andy Last added, “I just felt there were periods when it was far too easy for us to concede and it looked easy for them to score. That’s a concern because attitude is about where you show what you’re about defensively and our attitude wasn’t right.” As Ellis concluded in a piece for the Yorkshire Post, “It has been like this for a while now which is not good to see. We do not have very long to put things right so we must act now. The manner of the defeat was terrible, we are not showing any resolve or fight. We then proceeded to roll over and we have to find the right attitude and desire”. What an admission from Gareth that was eh?? 

So here we had the Coach and the ex-captain (and still senior professional)admitting that what was happening around the place was pretty unthinkable for professional sportsmen. The thing is, thefans are just getting fed up with it all. Of course, true to type and to ‘in any kindaweather’, all that is again put aside by the supporters, as we all rally around the club and players in this a real hour of need, but I guess many would say that on the playing side of things, when we get back to playing we deserve a lot better! 

Of course, Andy Last is in post and he knows that so he’ll have a real go at it and only time will tell how he will get on. Good luck to him and I hope that his tenure is long and successful. But if it isn’t ,then perhaps one day in the future, we’ll get a Coach who has no baggage, no pals and no scruples, but quite frankly it’s gone on so long, I haven’t an answer to it all really and I guess we just have to hope.  

On a lighter not and by heck we need one, my quote of the week was by Riderofthepalehorse on RL fans, after last week I tried to explain Hull FC general lack of verve and the attitude of the players when he said,  “Good Diary Petein troubled times, but WTF is Laissez Faire, is it near Hull Fair?” Well done mate that really made me laugh! 

On a more sombre note it was sad to hear that a great servant  and hero of our Club, George Robinson, had come on difficult times and been moved into a home. My best wished go to George who as a player always gave his all in the late 70’s and early 80’s and although often in the shadow of some great full backs at times, he was one who always rose to the occasion just as he did when he got a late call up on the Friday night before the 1980 semi-final against Widnes. He was made of the stuff that FC fans base their love and loyalty on and I hope that he goes on OK in the future weeks. Good luck George! 

So, there we are that’s this week’s offering which is just based on what I have been thinking and what has unfolded in a week that literally no one could have envisaged. I feel a bit guilty in even visiting the issues that the team has on the pitch at present but I hope that you understand that isn’t in any way to deride what is happening now in any way, but more a reflection on what has been going on for a while before the Covid stuff broke and what most of the fans hope to see in the future. 

It’s really tough for so many of the guys at the club at present and as I said earlier, we are all backing them and hoping all goes well. It’s tough for their families and all the FC fans who are rooting for them too. If ever the expression stay safe was true to its words it is certainly right now!!  Whether there is a Diary next week depends on what transpires between now and I guess if there is anything to talk about then, but rest assured as soon as there is something to report I’ll be back with you.

Thanks for all your correspondence this week and for sticking with what has been a very difficult Diary to write. Let’s all pray that everything sorts itself out satisfactorily.  

Speak soon, look after yourselves, get behind the club and …

Keep Believing 

Faithfully Yours 

Wilf